Saturday 13 April 2013

All aboard the song train

The starting of a new job seems to have coincided with a bit of a downturn in vintage news (not to mention my third cold in as many months!) - hence I have been absent from the blogging circuit for nearly two weeks, for which I must continue to crave forgiveness!  I still haven't forgotten about you all though (I read all your posts of an evening, or at the weekend, as something very much to look forward to) nor this blog of mine.

Sitting on the train during the commute into work I often find myself thinking of potential subjects for this site and, while listening to my portable i-gramophone last week, it occurred to me that the very mode of transportation I was using - and the music I had playing - would make an excellent topic.

The railway train has always had an instantly recognisable rhythm and one that naturally lends itself to a musical beat.  There have been countless songs over the years featuring trains and rail travel to some extent or another but it is the half-a-dozen or so favourites in my music collection that I intend to focus on here.

The first song, Choo-Choo, neatly sums up the steam train in typical Thirties onomatopoeic style and is wonderfully redolent of period rail travel.  Written and recorded by American bandleader Frankie Trumbauer in 1930, it was almost immediately cut by a multitude of other bands on both sides of the Atlantic.  While the original Trumbauer recording is excellent, my favourite from the U.S. is Paul Whiteman's version, above, made in the same year.

In the U.K. the two Jacks - Jack Payne and Jack Hylton - both recorded versions of Choo-Choo a year later in 1931 and again, while Jack Payne's version is wonderful, Hylton's arrangement just shades it for me.

Arguably a more famous "Choo-Choo" is Glenn Miller's brilliant 1941 record - Chattanooga Choo-Choo, a song that instantly conjures up images of transcontinental railway journeys in the 1940s and '50s.

A year or two earlier Glenn Miller had had similar success, reaching number 1 on the U.S. Billboard chart with another train-themed number - Tuxedo Junction.  The song had actually been written in 1939 by American bandleader Erskine Hawkins and while his original version made it to number 7 in the charts it remains less well-known today than the classic Miller arrangement.

Another railway tune that has become inextricably linked to its [co-]composer - so much so that it is invariably called his "signature song" and found in every compilation of his music - is Duke Ellington's Take The 'A' Train.  It is a reputation that it thoroughly deserves, being one of the defining examples of 1940s big band music never mind rail-based songs.

One of my very favourite "songs of the track", though, is this one - Honky-Tonk Train Blues.  Although written and first recorded as long ago as 1927 by the noted early boogie-woogie pianist Meade Lux Lewis, this 1938 arrangement by Bob Crosby (Bing's brother) with Bob Zurke on the piano really rolls along splendidly.

For me all of these help rekindle some of the fun and romance that seems to have been lost from modern train travel, as I commute to and from work in a characterless and brightly-coloured plastic tube.  Sometimes I can even imagine seeing something steaming past the station platform, or pulling the far more luxurious carriage I picture myself travelling in... porter! My case please!

1 comment:

  1. Alex Mendham just recorded Choo Choo on his album. If you ever get a chance hearing them live, don't hesitate. :-) Congrats on the new job!


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